I’m writing this on the day after Canada Day, which always feels like the start of the week to me. Living in Canada’s capital city means that you’re going to get involved in some way, no matter how low-key, in our national celebration. Yesterday’s revelry took place in lots of heat and humidity, and in the afternoon, there was a tornado warning — something that isn’t exactly commonplace for Ottawa.
Today, I was surprised by news that a music festival in my home province of Nova Scotia is cancelling its 2014 edition (scheduled for July 4-6) because a very early tropical storm seems like it will hit Canso, the home of the Stan Rogers Folk Festival, right when they’re supposed to be making music for an adoring crowd.
Outdoor events are by definition unpredictable. I was on the board of the Ottawa Folk Festival in 2010 when torrential rains made most of the site unusable and dealt a crippling blow to our finances. And in 2011, I was in the crowd at the Ottawa Bluesfest to enjoy a Cheap Trick show when a freak storm blew in and this happened (video shot by another bystander):
Fortunately, nobody died during that stage collapse, although there were injuries. Litigation over the collapse is still going on.
My experiences with music festivals have left me with an abiding interest in crisis preparation and response. And one of the most important things you can do as an organization is to have a “dark page” ready. What’s that, you ask?
A dark page, or a dark site, is a pre-developed website that you can use in place of your organization’s normal site in the event of a crisis of some sort. Why do this?
Well, if you look at the Stan Rogers Festival site, the cancellation media release is two clicks in. The main page, merrily promoting the festival and selling tickets, is what I see when I visit. Fortunately, you can’t actually complete a ticket purchase, but a casual visitor wouldn’t know what was happening.
If the Stanfest site had pulled down its normal page and replaced it with a simple site explaining the situation and informing various groups (ticketholders, performers, etc) of what they needed to know and how to get more information, the communication would be much more clear and straightforward.
Also, if anyone tries to share the news of the cancellation on Facebook, the site feeds FB information about the 2013 and 2012 dates, a fault in the HTML coding of the site:
Fortunately for Stanfest, their fans seem understanding and conciliatory. But if those fans begin to ask for information about refunds or rescheduling without quick answers, the patience may wear thin.
I fervently hope that the storm amounts to very little and that the folks behind Stanfest are able to put something together to salvage the festival.
Whatever your business, you should put a little thought into this. Crises happen everywhere, all the time. If you want to learn more about this, feel free to contact me, or you could read my friend Ann Marie van den Hurk’s book “Social Media Crisis Communications.” She’s a superb thinker on this topic.